Last Wednesday, August 24th, the Bonhams New York showroom hosted its American Art sale, breaking a sort of lull and signaling the coming of larger sales for the rest of the year. It was a modest sale, with only sixty-seven lots available and moderate estimates for each. Bonhams specialists predicted that Wolf Kahn’s 1994 oil on canvas painting Summer Trees Against the Deep Blue Sky would be the sale’s star, estimating it would go for anywhere between $25K to $35K. While it certainly made the top three lots at $40K (or $50.8K w/p), it was beaten out by one of the major surprises of the sale. Nantucket, Massachusetts by Anne Ramsdell Congdon is a 19 by 24-inch oil-on-Masonite painting executed in 1947 that was only meant to sell for $7K at most. However, it went far beyond its pre-sale estimates, with the hammer coming down at $42K (or $53.3K w/p), or six times what the specialists predicted. It’s a lovely, inoffensive landscape, but the only thing that may have caused it to garner so much attention is its provenance. Nantucket, Massachusetts was previously in the collection of Emmy winner David Lloyd. With his work on Fraser, Taxi, Cheers, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lloyd was one of the most prominent television screenwriters of the twentieth century.
Like the Kahn painting, the experts were correct in their evaluation of the only Ernie Barnes work in the sale, which was a graphite and ink drawing with acrylic wash on paper meant as a study for a later painting. Though this work was only a study, Bonhams still expected it to go for $25K, eventually selling for $32K (or $40.7K w/p). Since his painting The Sugar Shack sold at the Christie’s 20th Century sale in May for $13M (or $15.2M w/p), the paintings of Ernie Barnes have been in high demand. In fact, on September 9th, Bonhams will be holding an Ernie Barnes sale consisting of a single lot: his 1993 painting Solid Rock Congregation, estimated to sell for $500K. However, the Barnes study tied for third place with another surprise. March Avery’s 1990 painting Karla Drawing was given a modest estimate at $6K to $8K. It’s just a simple painting of a woman, presumably the titular Karla, in a bright orange turtleneck sweater resting a sketchpad on her legs. I’m not entirely sure what caused that day’s bidders to drive the final hammer price up to $32K (or $40.7K w/p), four times its original high estimate.
In the end, the sale was rather successful. Thirty-two of the sixty-seven lots, or 48%, sold above their estimates, while the specialists had an accuracy rate of 24% since sixteen lots sold within estimate. All but six lots sold in the end. While Bonhams originally thought the entire sale would bring in $330.6K at most, the number of lots that exceeded expectations brought the sale’s total to $392,480.